Nutritional diseases or disorders are caused either by a deficiency in certain food constituents or a harmful excess of vitamins or minerals. A condition called hypoglycemia – the technical name for “low blood sugar” – is one such nutritional disease, but more specifically a metabolic disorder. It is the opposite of what takes place in diabetes mellitus.
In hypoglycemia, the amount of blood sugar (glucose) falls below the level of 50 milligrams of glucose per 100 milliliters of blood. The symptoms of low blood sugar may follow two patterns; they can occur either separately or in combination. In the first pattern in which the nervous system is involved, certain symptoms are caused by a deficiency in the supply of glucose to the brain (sufficient supply of glucose to the brain is necessary to maintain the normal activity of the brain’s cells).
In the other pattern, other symptoms are caused by the body’s attempt to offset the deficiency in glucose by producing an emergency supply of epinephrine – the principal blood-pressure raising hormone produced by the adrenal medulla. As a disorder, hypoglycemia does not exist or occur by itself; it may stem from any one of several causes, the six most common of which are as follows:
Insulin reaction is, by far, the most common cause of hypoglycemia. Putting it more precisely, this means an overdose of insulin in a diabetic. Insulin makes the body use up glucose more quickly. Therefore, an excessive amount of insulin reduces the amount of sugar in the blood. Excessive use of hypoglycemic agents, such as the sulfonylureas, produces the same result.
Another common cause of low blood sugar is failure to eat the usual amount of food after taking insulin. In a person affected with diabetes, carefully balancing the amount of food eaten and the insulin taken is important in order to maintain the right level of blood sugar. When the diabetic fails to eat the necessary amount of food, the effect is similar to an overdose of insulin – the amount of sugar in the blood is reduced.
Third in the list of the most common causes of hypoglycemia is excessive exercise. Low blood sugar is likely to occur if the body’s sources for replenishing the blood sugar become exhausted (because of excessive exercise) and are not momentarily sufficient. A person suffering from diabetes mellitus is particularly susceptible to this.
A variety of tumors, particularly tumors of the pancreas in which the insulin-producing tissue becomes overactive – thus resulting to an overproduction of insulin -, is another common cause of hypoglycemia. The fifth common cause of low blood sugar is liver disease in which the blood sugar is not normally stored or released.
Lastly, hypoglycemia may occur in connection with diseases of certain endocrine organs, particularly the pituitary and the adrenals. Strangely, the hypo or low condition may take place early in the course of diabetes, before the usual hyper or excessive stage.
Hypoglycemia is responsible for a host of indistinct ailments, including headache, fatigue, hunger, weakness, anxiety or mental confusion, irritability, sleepiness, forgetfulness, paleness, aimless activity, inability to concentrate, and reduced intellectual capacity. Experts emphasize that a diagnosis of hypoglycemia should not be made unless a physician shows clearly, with laboratory tests, that the blood sugar of a person is actually low during the time the person is experiencing any of these symptoms.
1. “List of causes of hypoglycemia,” on the Wikipedia
2. “Hypoglycemia,” on Your Doctor, Health Info Center, Endocrine Disorders (online)